Creativecommons.org/ Alina S.
If you like food, you will love Tunisia! The cuisine there combines the best of Middle Eastern, Arabic and Mediterranean styles with a touch of French influence. It tends to be highly flavoured rather than spicy and the rich taste is offset with the lighter flavours of mint, orange blossom and rose. Coastal regions incorporate seafood while the inner cities tend to have more lamb and chicken. Couscous is everywhere, as are fresh veggie salads.
As Tunisian food is rarely on the menu in North America, a bit of a primer is useful before you arrive in country.
Couscous. Common in Canada, in Tunisia the cooked semolina wheat is served with meat, fish or vegetables. The dish can be present at every meal and is a staple in most households.
Harissa. A paste or compote made of chili peppers, garlic and cumin ground together with a little olive oil. The spice level ranges from tingly to terrifying, and a small test taste is a wise plan before you spoon it onto your couscous. Harissa is almost always on the table either as a condiment or a dip for bread.
Mechouia. Sometimes called a salata, it’s a mix of grilled pepper, onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil. It’s used as a dip for bread but might be served with egg and tuna on top. Generally mild in flavour, some places start with hot peppers, so it’s wise to sample before spooning.
Salata Tounisia (Salade Tunisienne). A mix of cucumber, tomato and onion served with lemon and olive oil. It’s very similar to salads served all over the Mediterranean.
Tajine. This is a kind of a baked casserole made with a thick stew (often lamb) mixed with bread or potatoes and folded into an egg and cheese mixture. It’s usually just spiced with coriander and is very mild – and eaten with the hands.
Brik. You might see this referred to as a pastry, but it is savory and deep-fried. The filling is egg, olive oil and tuna, and some places serve it with a runny yolk. This is another finger food and a favourite appetizer for most visitors.
Ojja. This is a thick and spicy stew that consists of a base of tomato, onion, garlic, pepper, egg and harissa. Different types of meat are added to create different dishes with merguez (spicy sausage) being the most common.
Also keep an eye out for filfil mahshi (peppers stuffed with beef and harissa), lablabi (chickpea broth), kamounia (thick stew made with lamb or beef) and marqa (another stew of meat and vegetables).
Now you've studied Eat Tunisia 101 - check out some of these restaurants...
Dar El Jeld, Tunis
It's expensive, but it's such a great experience you won’t care. The main dining room is an 18th century palace with decorative tiles and a true feeling of elegance. Traditional music plays in the background and the cuisine is high-class authentic. You can eat like a pasha for around $40 per person.
Dar Zarrouk, Sidi Bou Said
Also a bit on the pricy side, but the view from the terrace is amazing. The food is basic but good with a lot of seafood on the small menu. Inside is air conditioned which may be welcome in the African heat.
Du Bonheur, Bizerte
A very North African experience, you can get most Tunisian specialties here. The tables are separated by traditional wooden screens and the fish dishes are lightly spiced. It’s also a nice spot to sample some Tunisian wine and relax.
Dar Belhadj, Tunis
Another lavishly decorated palace, this one serves Tunisian food with a bit of flair. The set menu is a selection of traditional dishes so you can sample a variety of flavours in one meal. A bit off the beaten path, the prices here are lower than the restaurants in the centre of town.
El Ferida, Djerba Island
Beautifully decorated and often staffed with a musician, the restaurant is nicely located and reasonably priced for the amount of elegance surrounding you. They have an extensive selection of fish dishes but only one vegetarian offering on the menu, although the desserts are usually vegan.
Cafe Culurel El Ali, Tunis
The dining room has amazing slow-cooked meat dishes cooked in traditional terracotta-ware served in a cozy setting that is comfortable and relaxed. Upstairs is even better as it has comfy chairs, a library and a rooftop terrace that invite you to stay for hours sipping mint teas and espressos .
Restaurant Les Trois Etoiles, Tunis
If you really just want couscous and some salata, this place has no ambiance - but is packed with flavour. It is dirt cheap and the plastic tables are always full of very happy customers. If you want traditional food on a budget, this is the best place in the city.
Le Chargui, Sidi Bou Said
Outdoor seating and excellent local food are provided with authentic Tunisian flair (translation: slow). Don’t go there if you’re in a hurry, but do sit down if you want great seafood at a fraction of the price of fancier restaurants. This little gem is a favourite of locals who enjoy the family-feel as much as the food.